In Response to a Teacher’s Questions About Homeschooling

Yesterday I read Why Are Urban, Professional Parents Choosing Homeschooling? by Judy Molland.  She was writing in response to Linda Perlstein’s recent article in Newsweek, and I think she brought up some good concerns and questions about homeschooling.  These are concerns I’ve heard before, so I thought I would answer them from my perspective in regards to why I want to homeschool my children. 

Molland writes:

As a teacher, I can say that with differentiated instruction, we try to accommodate all students’ needs and learning styles, but it’s impossible to do that perfectly with a classroom of 30 unique, individual kids.

But is that such a bad thing? Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other? And is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?

As Molland points out, many homeschoolers do it because they want to give their children a tailored education that meets their needs.  This includes me.  As she mentions, it’s impossible to accommodate all the children in a classroom, and I do think that’s a bad thing.

Some children may be able to compensate and do very well in traditional school.  (I’m not totally against traditional school.)  But I think, if possible, every child could benefit from having one-on-one instruction with someone who is looking out for his/her individual needs.  If the child isn’t homeschooled full-time, parents should “supplement public school with homeschooling” as someone I knew once said.

I read in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style that it has helped students when their parents took the time to figure out what his or her special learning style was.  Though the classroom instruction was not changed (it’s impossible to change it to meet just one student’s needs), it helped that student to realize that he wasn’t stupid or couldn’t do it the work.  It confirmed for him that he is unique and capable.  And by helping him learn his own style, he could apply certain techniques at home to help him with his studies.

(Also, I’ve already written about why I think it’s a good idea to Support Your Child’s Interests.)

Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other? 

Ideally, yes.  But I’m not convinced this always happens at school in positive ways.  I can remember being devastated in second grade when a new student influenced my best friend (and several other children) not to be my friend anymore.  I think this actually had consequences on my self-esteem and trust in friendships for many years after.

And the “help” I remember getting from fellow students as I got older was answers to tests that I should have been taking myself.  I’m glad to say I didn’t cheat a lot, but it did happen, and I knew other students who did it too.  Students can help each other beat the system, and the group culture can foster underachievement.  It was never cool to be smart in school.  It was cool to be pretty, wear the most fashionable clothes, and to be popular.

I know that doesn’t happen to everyone, and I know there are some awesome schools out there.   But I can homeschool my children, and I can give them opportunities to find out who they are and what they love without peer pressure.  This is their one chance to have a childhood and find a direction for their life.

I think my children will learn to work together and help each other better when I’m helping to create their social network.   The world is always going to try to beat down their self-esteem, and the cruelty of the world will rear its ugly head at them.  I don’t think I have to worry about sheltering them too much.  But I do want to help them build a platform of self-esteem, self-reliance, a love of learning, and a heart full of compassion so that when something bad happens to them, they won’t be crushed by it.

Is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?

Maybe not.  Because I know it would probably help my mental health if I had some breaks from my kids!  However, I love being with my kids, and I believe being a close family is a reward of homeschooling.  Society is always touting “family values,” but I see very little support for these so-called “family values” we’re supposed to have.  Why are people so concerned about homeschoolers when they truly care about family values and are doing something about it?  Also, I don’t think we’ll constantly be together.  As they get older, I’ll find more outlets for them.  There are classes, camps and many other opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time away from home.

Homeschooling is not perfect, but I would rather take its imperfections over the imperfections I see in our current public schools.

Molland goes on to write:

It is true that nowadays there are lots of resources available for homeschooling parents including, in some cities, curriculum, centers and classes designed especially for these youngsters.

And yet, I worry that these homeschooling parents will become the helicopter parents of the future, unwilling to let their children flourish independently, or to give them the freedom to grow as separate individuals.

I can’t speak for all homeschoolers, but I’m homeschooling my kids exactly because I want them to flourish independently!  Please go back up and re-read the first part of this post to see some of my reasons.  In addition to that, I can say that although I’m sure I’ll experience the pains of an “empty nest” someday, I know it’s in my son’s best interests to at some point let go.  As someone who advocates child-led learning, I don’t see myself not letting my children flourish independently.

I am the first person who will encourage my sons to meet new people, try new things, and do for themselves.

I’ve already written about how I plan to teach my children more than what they’d learn in school in What Are We Preparing Our Children For?   

Right now, at the ages of 5 and 2, I try to ask questions as much as I parcel out information.  I want them to know that their thoughts and ideas are valued.  In a classroom, a teacher may ask questions too, but how many students answer?  There’s usually one or two who raise their hand a lot and the rest of the class stays silent.  (I was always too shy to answer a question in school, and I hated it when a teacher asked me a direct question.  Going to public school did not help me overcome shyness or insecurity.)

I would advocate that any mom should not let go of her interests too.  While we may do less of the things we love while rearing children, we need to keep a flame lit so that when the time comes for our children to step on their own path, we’ll have our own path to travel too.

Molland’s final questions are these:

Will These Kids Know How To Interact With Others From Different Backgrounds?

And, as someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, it also concerns me that these children won’t know how to interact with people from backgrounds quite different from theirs.  What do you think?

I wish I could ask her, “As someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, how did you learn how to interact with people with backgrounds very different than yours?”

When I was in school, I wasn’t very aware of “different backgrounds.”   In college, and throughout my twenties and thirties, I began to realize what adults consider the “dividers” in class, culture and beliefs, and I finally experienced the pain of that through first-hand experience.  This might tell you that I was a middle-class white girl without a lot of experiences to clue me into these deep emotional divides.  Yes, I was quite naïve.  And guess what?!  I attended public school.

Again, I’m not saying everyone has this same experience.  I know young people who are very aware of things I had no clue about growing up.  I offer it as an example that public school doesn’t always allow us to learn how to work with people of different backgrounds.

But come to think of it, as I became an adult and lived in London and Japan for a while, I never thought that I needed to “learn” how to interact with people in those countries.  I just did it.  I learned about customs and nuances as I went along. (I believe my son is doing the same thing in his five-year-old world as we meet new people and go places.)

When I returned from Japan, I learned that most Americans don’t know half as much about the world outside their borders as people in other countries know about us.  Schools may do a better job of having multi-cultural lessons and events, but we do not make learning a second language a priority in our schools.  My husband is a college professor who teaches world history, and he says that students coming out of our high schools don’t seem to know the first thing about other religions of the world such as Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.  With all the globalization that has been happening for many years now, shouldn’t our students have a basic knowledge of these religions?

This is a reason I want to homeschool!  I want to teach my children about the world, different beliefs, different religions, and if possible, I’d like to teach them a foreign language.  In Our Homeschool Mission, I listed Religious Education as an emphasis of mine.  I don’t mean one religion.  I’ll teach my children about my personal beliefs, but I’ll also teach them about others.

I realize that there are many homeschoolers who do so for religious reasons, and they do want to shield their children from any other beliefs.  While I don’t agree with that, I have to respect a parent’s right to teach their children in their own way.  If I don’t respect their right, how can I expect anyone to respect my right? (Child abuse is a different story, and unfortunately, it will exist occasionally for all children – traditionally schooled children and homeschooled children.)   Frankly, I believe parents can still shelter children even if they go to public school, and children often grow up and continue to hold the same beliefs and attitudes their parents did.  (I think the parents who don’t shelter their kids will have a better chance of their kids not rebelling than those who do.)

I respect people who voice concerns about homeschooling and ask good questions, but these concerns are unfounded, especially when you consider the countless students in public schools who are left behind.  There are so many kids out there who need help….  who need food….  who need new clothes.  Why do people keep bringing up these ridiculous concerns about homeschoolers?

There may be some students who are at a disadvantage while being homeschooled, but there are many who are disadvantaged in our public schools.  Most homeschooling parents are doing so because they love their children and want to give them a good education.  They hear these concerns and they do what they can to overcome any negative effect that homeschooling may give their child. 

Personally, I would rather deal with the possible ill effects of homeschooling than the possible ill effects of public education.

That is what I think.

Shelli Pabis is a newspaper columnist, photographer and homeschooler living in Georgia.  Sign up for her RSS feed by clicking here.

37 Responses to “In Response to a Teacher’s Questions About Homeschooling”

  1. ( Thanks for your post – thought provoking as always!)
    Here is my take:

    In a world of babies shoved in microwaves, and full-grown adults stampeding each other at “doorbuster” sales, “pink slime,” soda, and junk food being fed to our kids at school, billboard advertisements on school buses, and many, many other head spinning WTF’s… there are FAR more dire cracks in our collective family, civic and education foundation that need to be discussed.

    Homeschooling by smart, healthy, well-educated parents should be the last item on any sane public school-supporting humans list of grievances.

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  2. Great post. Now if people would just stop asking me if my children are adequately socialized…..

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  3. This is quite a thorough and very compelling response to the short essay you reference here. I was thinking about similar things today, considering (though not nearly as thoroughly as you do) the small mindedness, misinformation, and over-generalization that appears in comments to articles and blog posts about homeschooling. I am not sure I yet have your confidence, but i absolutely agree with your sentiments.

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    • Erica, thanks so much for your comment. I can’t say I’m always confident, but I am confident that so many of these “concerns” about homeschooling are unfounded, especially when you consider how many children in public school are floundering.

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  4. If I wanted to ensure that my son was *not* exposed to people with backgrounds different to his, then the first place I would send him would be our local public school – we live in a Midwestern town where the majority of residents are the same ethnicity and have similar religious beliefs. Because we homeschool, my son has visited a Buddhist monastery, has helped me deliver Meals on Wheels, has helped me volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center and is comfortable sitting down and talking with anyone of any age. We study comparative religion, different cultures and instead of a college fund, my son is putting money aside so he can travel internationally after he’s finished high school. If I were truly a helicopter parent, I wouldn’t be so excited at the prospect of his future plans.

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  5. Thank you for this well-written post.

    One reason we homeschool is so that my son will not be exposed to the social environment of the public school system, which does not in any way develop a child’s ability to cope with a variety of social situations. Institutionalized schooling is historically abnormal. In the past (in the US), children were largely taught by their parents at home using the Bible, classical readings, and newspapers. Even in the 19th century, when schools became more popular, such schooling only took place for two to five months out of the year. The remainder of the time was spent with parents, other family members, and within the community; and yet, historically, most children grew up to become well-adjusted members of their community.

    My experience has been that for every issue homeschooling parents shoot down, teachers et al. will raise another “concern.” Every study I’ve seen shows that those who have been homeschooled are actually more capable in every way. Color me skeptical, but this leads me to believe that those “concerns” hide an agenda other than any real concern over a child’s development, intellectual or otherwise.

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  6. Thank you, you have said every thing I have always wanted to say!

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  7. First, full disclosure, I’m a public school teacher. I totally agree that “Homeschooling by smart, healthy, well-educated parents should be the last item on any sane public school-supporting humans list of grievances.” It is last for me and in fact I’m surprised about this conversation where several of you have needed to “defend” your choices. However, to play the other field, there is some talk of all the negative about public education and how many children are being left behind. I agree that there are, but I would argue that the majority of these are not children of “smart, healthy, well-educated parents”. The divides are based more along socio-economic lines. Your children (the people commenting on this blog) will bloom wherever because they have caring, loving parents who will support their children and guide them in life. I only wish that all children had that same environment. Public school is the safest, warmest, and caring environment for so many of our children…especially in the Athens area. (I realize that might say a lot more about the horrid conditions of their home lives.) I work towards and hope that all of us work towards, whether we have children in public school or not (2nd disclosure my child attends Athens Montessori), creating public schools that serve the best interests of all of the children and community. I happen to disagree with the direction that public schools have been heading in the past decade and I struggle with changing that direction. At the same time, I respect everyone’s decision to educate differently and feel fortunate that there are several options…I do not believe in the one size fits all educational philosophy.

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    • Melanie, thanks for commenting on my blog, and your thoughtful response! I agree with you completely. When a parent is struggling to put food on the table, it’s hard for them to think about reading a book to their child let alone guiding them through their education. (Not to mention any other struggles they may have.) And I often say that not everyone has to homeschool. I can do it, and I want to, but I would never look down on someone else for not wanting to. Especially if it’s a caring parent who guides their child anyway, as you say. I also believe that most teachers are very caring and try very hard. They certainly aren’t in it for the money! However, I don’t have fond memories of high school, and I stand by my statement that the teenage group culture can foster underachievement. I realize that my kids might have a different experience if I put them into public school, but if I can homeschool and give them an edge, I’m going to do it. Thanks again. I would love to chat anytime!

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  8. hey, on twitter you said this was a rant. it’s just a well-reasoned response. bait and switch! ;^)

    “Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other?”

    in a multiage, project-based classroom that might be a wonderful thing, but it happens so rarely in that way. in a normal classroom, the oldest kids are always the oldest kids; the “smart” kids are always the “smart” kids, and no one has time to put together group projects that let every child show his or her strength or talent. i know that when i was in school, i grew very tired of spending all my time working with other students as a nine-year-old de-facto teacher’s aide. that’s not a good way of dealing with a student who’s bored by the work.

    every single one of this person’s “concerns” could be written off to a complete misunderstanding of how homeschooling can be done. who says hs’ed kids don’t learn to work together with peers and help one another? they have more time to work *and* play in groups with kids of mixed ages; they have more opportunity to take process-oriented classes and join teams and clubs.

    “Is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?”
    you nailed this one, but i would just add — is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their peers as they are growing up?

    “I worry that these homeschooling parents will become the helicopter parents of the future, unwilling to let their children flourish independently, or to give them the freedom to grow as separate individuals.”

    again, your answer is right on the money, of course, but again i would add — i imagine she is stressing *independently* here. as in, if your child flourishes at school, he is independent, but if you *say* he is thriving at home, it doesn’t count because he is *not* independent. this is a fallacy, of course. hs’ing parents can create an environment that allows their child more control, more independence, more freedom, more choice.

    “Will These Kids Know How To Interact With Others From Different Backgrounds?”

    this presumes that your local public school offers a wonderful mix of children from diverse backgrounds. where i live, the classroom would be the homogenized experience and hs’ing allows us to participate in groups, classes, teams, and friendships in the nearby university town that offers tremendously more diversity.

    enjoyed your very level-headed and sensible response to this article, shelli!

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  9. I have to tell you that I love love love your article! I don’t think that I could have said it as well as you did! Sharing on my FB page and other forums I am a member of… I went to public school and I can say there isn’t much I learned from my teachers that I couldn’t have learned on my own. AND I have experiences that I would not want my kids to have! As a mom of a teenager I can honestly say that I enjoy being around him (well most of the time and ditto from him!) and he is one of the best teenagers (mostly to others, LOL) that I have seen. He would not be the same child if he had continued in the system. He also has numerous positive outlets to be social and be around his peers, where I am not around:)

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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  10. Shelli,
    I had thought about responding to this article in Newsweek, but I was SO busy doing other projects. Your response is great! I’ve mentioned it on my blog.

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  11. “Your children (the people commenting on this blog) will bloom wherever because they have caring, loving parents who will support their children and guide them in life.”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t true. It would be great if the only kids struggling in schools were the ones who have difficult home backgrounds. Many kids who have caring parents do struggle or fall behind in schools. Many homeschoolers initially had their kids in a public school and then pulled them out because they weren’t learning. Their kids obviously weren’t blooming in a public school.

    I used to know a woman who had so much animosity toward the public schools because her son fell four years behind in reading. She homeschooled him and got him back up to grade level then struggled to pay tuition for a private high school. Obviously this boy’s parents cared a lot, yet that didn’t ensure success in a public school. Far from it. Between ineffective teaching methods, lousy textbooks and multiple guess testing, it’s very hard for kids to bloom in the average public school.

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  12. What a wonderful response! I was a private school teacher, and now we plan on homeschooling our 3 children. I have to say I’ve been surprised at how positive my friends have been (especially my teacher friends.) The most common response is “I totally see why you would homeschool, and how great it could be, but I just don’t think I can do it.” Of course that’s another rant entirely ;)

    I don’t worry about my kids getting socialized, or meeting people from different backgrounds because we live in a city, and I plan on making sure they are exposed to different faiths/cultures in a natural way. The school I worked at prided it’s self on it’s multicultural curriculum, but when we talked about the civil rights movement, or The Farmer’s Rights movement, the kids would say things like “my nanny speaks Spanish” or “my housekeeper is black” What they new of minorities! That’s no way to build cultural literacy. People of color were “those poor black kids who I give my old toys to.”

    There is one thing I worry about, and it’s not for my own kids, so I try not to judge. However, I do worry about children being taught by parents who are trying to shelter them from the values being taught in the schools/our culture. Children who grow up thinking everything about the government is evil, or that other religions are the devil. I worry about children who are taught not to question, and to believe blindly. But as you say, I guess I need to respect others ways of teaching their children if I want them to respect me? I’m almost there. It’s just that I’m scared for children in public schools who are being taught that their worth is in a test, and I’m scared for the children who are taught that someone who has different political or cultural beliefs from them are evil. I worry about the adults they will become, and the society they will form. I guess I just worry too much!

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    • Leigh,

      Thanks so much for your comment, and to be honest, I definitely don’t always agree with other parents or their beliefs, and I worry about those kids. But I keep reminding myself that I do have to respect other people’s rights if I want my rights to be respected. In addition to this, I remind myself that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t agree with my beliefs, and they are just as worried about my kids and what they will do to future society! It’s such a hard thing, and I don’t always know when to draw that line of being tolerant and when some action needs to take place. Generally I think as long as people aren’t being physically or emotionally hurt, then we need to respect people’s rights. Yet how can we always know about the emotional part? This is something I will probably keep pondering and worrying about my whole life!

      Lately I’ve been thinking that all we can really do is concentrate on our similarities. We have to find common ground, and maybe that will help us respect and tolerate the differences.

      As for, “I just don’t think I could do it,” I may have to write a blog post about that sometime! It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I just don’t want to do it,” but no one needs to say that they can’t! Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

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  13. Hello. My name is Jeannie, I am 47 years old, and I homeschool my 15 year old daughter. I attended public school as a child and this is what I learned.

    *I learned that if you had the right teacher, kindergarten could be fun.
    *I learned that 1st grade was all about watching films in the ‘common” area when the teachers wanted a free day. (which happened quite often)
    *I learned in the 2nd grade that my best friend changed everyday.
    *I learned that in 3rd grade, it was possible to have a keep a best friend in hopes of having them for life.
    *I learned that in 4th grade math was difficult and the teacher didn’t have time to teach me one on one. My parents stunk at math so I had to “wind it”.
    *I learned that in the 5th grade life was a popularity contest. I gained a very good friend because I was popular.
    *I learned in the 6th grade that boys were cute.
    *I learned in the 7th grade all the cute boys wanted to kiss.
    *I learned in the 8th grade I could scram loud enough to be a cheerleader and I could jump high enough…but I didn’t have the right last name.
    *I learned in the 9th grade that my parents were getting a divorce and none of my friends cared.
    *I learned in the 10 grade that if you didn’t do drugs, you had no friends (chose to have no friends).
    *I learned in the 11th grade that boys thought the only thing girls were good for was sex.
    * I learned in the 12th grade that even if you STILL didn’t “get” math, you can still graduate.

    These are all lessons I don’t want my daughter to learn. I think that public school is NOT the safest warmest environment for our children. I did NOT have a good school experience on any level of public school. I have an exceptional child who is the most well rounded socially adjusted child I have ever met. I know she isn’t the only one but she is mine and I know that she is the way she is because of homeschooling. I would not for a second think about putting her in public school even if she wanted to and subject her to what I “learned” in school.

    I think that most public school teachers, including a sister in law on mine, think that the same way most of our homeschooling mom minds work just on a bigger level. They think that the way they teach is a great way, but they can’t possibly reach every student on the level that we can working one on one with our children.

    Jut MHO.

    Jeannie

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    • Jeannie,

      Thank you so much for your detailed comment! If I were to make a list like that, I think mine would sound similar to yours! The popularity contest in high school is what really did me in. Kids don’t have time for learning when they are so concerned with such things. I want my kids to know that life is so much bigger than that!

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  14. This is an excellent post. Thank you so much for putting it so eloquently. You are way ahead of the game, being that you are really at the beginning of your homeschooling journey.

    I plan to post this to my blog’s FB page. Thanks so much.

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  15. I homeschooled my four kids from kindergarten through highschool (19 years) in a military context. We began in 1989 in Germany, then in New Jersey, Georgia, South Korea, South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas. All four have turned out fine and are in many ways superior to their peers. They all have been recognized for their commitment to excellence and leadership skills. They are able to relate to people of all ages and socialization has never been a problem. My oldest son told me that all of our moves and the experiences of living in different places gave him a much wider worldview than many young people his age. My “kids” are now 27, 25, 23, and 21. Two are store managers, one an Army officer, and the youngest a nursing school student. Homeschooling does work!!

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  16. “Going to public school did not help me overcome shyness or insecurity.” Your whole response is great but I am just pulling out that little tidbit. It kills me when I hear people say they are putting their kids in school rather than homeschooling so that they can “get over” their shyness or attachment to parents. It really breaks my heart when I think about how they could grow and flourish in their own time under their parents’ wings!

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    • Sarah, Thank you for your comment! You know, that’s exactly why I went through a spell when I worried about whether I should put my son into kindergarten. And it wasn’t so much for him but because I was afraid other people would see how shy he was around other kids, and they would silently judge that I made a mistake by not putting him into school. But then I really thought about it for a long time, and I realized that when I was a wee little girl, I wasn’t so shy, but in fact, I got shy later. Was it a result of being in school? Was it just natural for me? Then I thought of other people I know who went through public school, and they are very shy adults. Shyness is not a problem. It’s just a personality trait. And being shy doesn’t mean that you can’t relate to people or that you’re too attached to being at home. I talk a lot when I’m one-on-one with a friend, but as soon as you add more people, I still clam up.

      I also wonder about people who think that kids have to “get over” their attachment to their parents. As kids grow up, they naturally want more independence! At five or six, do they really have to grow up so fast? Let it progress naturally. Good parents know when to loosen the strings. It’s not a good reason for putting kids in school. I agree with you on that!

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